Contributing Arizona Highways photographer John (a.k.a. “Verm”) Sherman was in the Verde Valley when the Slide Fire started. Over the next couple of days, Sherman captured several photographs of the fire. Since it was first reported, the fire has burned 20,369 acres of forest. Below, he talks about what he witnessed:
I was in Page Springs down in the Verde Valley, shooting near the fish hatchery on Oak Creek, when the fire started. I could see a cloud building up over the hills north of the hatchery. The skies were clear everywhere else, and I thought, “Oh, no, that must be a fire.” Dawn Kish and I had planned to climb Oak Creek Spire the next day, but the smoke descended into Sedona (as seen in Ted Grussing’s fine aerial shots), and we scrubbed that plan. Instead, we went out to the Cottonwood-to-Clarkdale scenic drive to try and shoot the fire at night. I had driven it a couple months back and thought it would give a view of the fire atop the red cliffs. I shot with two cameras that night and exposed thousands of RAW frames in hopes of assembling time-lapse sequences later.
The next morning we woke to irritating smoke, so we escaped over to Prescott so we could get some climbing in. It gave me a chance to to review the first set of images, then plan to try for more fire and stars shots. I had heard about the much-anticipated Camelopardalis meteor shower due Friday night and was thinking it would make unique shots to record that celestial event happening above the fire. We drove up to the top of Mingus Mountain for the meteor show, set up our cameras and lawn chairs, and waited for the show. As it turned out, the meteor shower was a bust. I only saw one shooting star, and that one failed to grant my wish for hundreds more to bless my images. Nevertheless, I shot through the night and into the dawn, which was when I saw the big plume form. It bubbled up into the sky looking like a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast, then stretched out to the east with wind shear up high (as the lower part of the plume slowly moved west).
For the sake of our lungs, we moved around based on wind direction. We got back to Flagstaff on Sunday night, and it was a bit smoky downtown and around NAU, but relatively clear in the town’s higher elevations. By Monday morning, the winds had shifted enough that Flagstaff was clear. The mood here is good, and we’re thankful that the winds shifted and lessened – and, of course, thankful for the hard work of the firefighters. It’s scary to think of how bad it could have gotten if the winds had stayed as strong as the first few days.
As to what was going through my mind — at first it was mostly trying not to botch the tricky exposures. Then, once things were set up and the camera was doing its own thing, I would ponder the aftermath of the fire. As you know, I love photographing wildlife. I had gone down to Page Springs to photograph the common black-hawks raising their family when the fire started. I wondered if the smoke would cause the black-hawk parents to flee. And of course, I couldn’t help but think about all the other baby animals that couldn’t escape the fire.
On a positive note, we stopped at Kaibab Lake on the drive back to Flagstaff, where I checked to see if the smoke had driven off the ospreys. I’m glad to report that I saw a parent tending the nest, so they hung tough through the smoke. I haven’t been able to check in on the black-hawks, but I hope they’re doing well.
To see more of John Sherman’s work, visit: Vermphoto.com or to watch a time lapse of the fire, visit http://www.vermphoto.com/blog/2014/5/burn-baby-stop-timelapse-from-slide-fire